Free media helping to define presidential race

By BETH FOUHY | December 10, 2011 | 3:41 AM EST

NEW YORK (AP) — From late-night comedy shows to one-on-one cable news interviews, free media exposure has been unusually influential this election season in defining the Republican presidential candidates.

Media exposure that comes without cost has also been setting the dynamics of the primary race, especially for lower-tier hopefuls lacking cash for TV ads.

The turn toward free media may have come at the expense of traditional face-to-face campaigning. And it raises the chances that a moment of fuzzy thinking or a verbal gaffe will haunt a candidate endlessly in the YouTube world.

An American University political communications professor, Leonard Steinhorn, says using free media as an amplifier is smart. But he also says that doing so gives the campaign a reality-show quality with the kind of visual moments people don't forget.